School began yesterday for nearly 200 new Howard County teachers who gathered at Mount View Middle School to learn about their workplace, the 36,000-student school system that is considered one of the best in Maryland.
Teachers sat at students' desks and faced the blackboard to hear staff development facilitators talk about classroom management and organization, first-day fears and other topics.
They gathered as part of the eighth annual New Teacher Orientation, which continues this week as teachers attend sessions on multicultural education, computer-based instruction, cooperative learning, school-home relations, student assessments and other topics.
The light moment came when school board members and top school officials donned aprons and plastic disposable gloves to serve lunch as part of the school system's "We're Here to Serve You" motto. The lunch consisted of a chicken sandwich, pasta and marinara sauce, canned fruit and iced tea.
On one side of the cafeteria, Superintendent Michael E. Hickey placed chicken patties on buns while school board member Sandra French scooped out rotini and school board Chairman Dana Hanna ladled marinara sauce. At the same time, he made small talk by asking new teachers what high schools they attended.
In small sessions during the orientation, the new recruits met principals and other teachers from their schools and talked about their fears for the first day. Some were afraid they would not wake up on time; others feared having blank bulletin boards or bad hair days. Youthful ones said jokingly that students might think they were young enough to be students themselves.
The county's 199 new teachers come from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Many look fresh from college, while others are longtime educators who moved to the county for new positions.
Among them is Philip Singleton, a British citizen who will teach English at Glenelg High School. He's well-traveled and has taught children from Tanzania, students from Oman and fighter pilots from Saudi Arabia. Mr. Singleton worked as a police officer with the Greater Manchester Police Department in England until his teacher training in Liverpool.
TC Now a Catonsville resident, Mr. Singleton was planning to return to the United Arab Emirates, where he had taught English, until he signed a contract with Howard County on July 5 -- only one day before his and his wife's self-imposed deadline to decide whether they would go overseas.
"Here I am and I'm glad to be here," he said. "Howard County has taken a chance to hire me, and that was a great chance they took."
Paul Seadler returned to teaching after spending a year working for Catholic Relief Services, which coordinates food and other programs for Third World countries such as Rwanda.
He previously worked as an administrator and teacher in private schools.
"Coming back to work in Howard County is going back to my first love, which is teaching," he said, as he stood in the lunch line with an armful of educational literature.
There was also Joan Forester, a Stevens Forest Elementary teacher who worked as a special education instructional assistant for 16 years. Ms. Forester decided to become a teacher when her youngest son graduated from college and became a teacher in Montgomery County.
"It's something I should have done a long time ago," she said, sitting at a lunch table with other new teachers. "I sort of pinch myself and say this is great."
And there was 22-year-old Andrea Boyer, a life-long Howard County resident who returns to Thunder Hill Elementary, her alma mater, to teach art.
"I think it's going to be exciting," she said. "It's neat to already have a bond with teachers who were there when I was a student. It's going to be hard to call them by their first names."
Ms. Boyer, a graduate of Centennial High School and the Maryland Institute College of Art, said she wanted to teach in Howard County because it "has the best reputation of any county as far as support from administrators, parents and teachers."
The teachers will also tour the county's Staff Development Center in Columbia and meet with specialists in math, science, social studies, English and special education who will talk about planning and strategies to help students learn.
The weeklong orientation is part of the county's support system for new teachers, who'll receive monthly newsletters and invitations to courses and workshop throughout the year.